Essay: Stem cell research

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  • Stem cell research
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Stem cells have a unique property to develop into any cell in the human body. These cells have immense potential to provide cures for various diseases. Since their discovery in 1998, stem cell research has challenged the questions of ethics and morals. As a highly controversial subject, many people disagree on whether the research should be conducted. Although some stem cell research can destroy potential life, the benefits of stem cell research has the opportunity to improve medicine and the overall quality of human life.
The main reason why stem cell research has controversy is because of the use of embryonic stem cells. When harvesting the cells from the embryos, the cell gets destroyed along with the potential human life. The destruction of these cells becomes an issue for those who believe that life begins at conception. This argument against embryonic stem cell research becomes the same as those who identify as pro-life, or those against abortion. Since they believe that life begins when the sperm fertilizes the egg, they see that using the embryo for stem cell research, which ultimately destroys it, is equivalent to murder. Embryonic stem cells are harvested “during the blastocyst phase of embryonic cells”, where the embryo hasn’t implanted to the uterine wall yet (“What are Stem Cells?”). Without implantation, the embryo cannot become a fetus and continue with development. Since the embryo becomes prevented from development, those against embryonic stem cell research see it as a termination of life. Although destroyed, the potential life contributed towards the improvement of current lives who have various disorders.

During the early stages of stem cell research in 2001, then U.S. President Bush restricted federal funding for research because of the destruction of human embryos. During this announcement, President Bush said that it “juxtaposes the need to protect life in all its phases with the prospect of saving and improving life in all its stages” (qtd. in White). President Bush’s restriction shows the presence of politics in stem cell research. Furthermore, all 17 Republican candidates openly spoke against stem cell research during a 2016 Presidential debate (Fox). They explained that the possibility of abusing the system would be against the welfare of those embryos (Fox). Although a terrible outcome, the regulations for these experiments prevent people from abusing certain aspects of stem cell research for personal gain. According to author Jonathan Kimmelman, the International Society for Stem Cell Research (ISSCR)’s guidelines for human embryonic stem cell research are “whether donors of eggs or embryos have provided informed consent, the justification for the study, the number of embryos that will be used, and the quality of the study design.” Not only do these make the experiments respectful, it protects the embryos from possible exploitation.

Since stem cell research always evolves, new concerns emerge and need solutions. Most of these concerns revolve around ethics and the protection of investors of stem cell research (Kimmelman). In response to the growing development of stem cell research, the ISSCR was created in order to regulate experiments involving stem cells globally. One aspect that the ISSCR regulates is how much compensation the women receive for donating the eggs (Kimmelman). Not only does this prevent women who provide the eggs from getting paid too much or too little, but it prevents the research from exploitation from a monetary stand point. The ISSCR also regulates human-animal chimeras, or human tissue implanted into animals (Kimmelman). Human-animal chimeras can cause concerns for animal welfare during experimentation. The ISSCR ensures that the animals have limitations to how they contribute to the experiment. With these regulations and guidelines by the ISSCR, it ensures all forms of stem cell research are ethically and respectfully conducted.

Aside from embryonic stem cell research, stem cell research has other variations. Inducted pluripotent stem (iPC) cells is where an adult cell is reverted back into it’s stem cell state and then further developed into the needed cell (Kimmelman). In 2006, Japanese researcher Shinya Yamanaka became the first to successfully reset skin cells back to the stem cell state, proving that embryos can avoid destruction for obtaining stem cells (White). Since this method does not need to harvest an embryonic cell, this method produces less controversy. Though this method potentially could eliminate the need for embryonic stem cells, they do not have approval for use in stem cell research due to the high risk of mutating, which could cause further complications to the recipient (Pera and Trounson). These mutations have the possibility of becoming tumors, so iPC’s are avoided in order to remove the risk. Although iPC’s can not completely eliminate the use of embryonic stem cells, it shows potential as a solution for various conservatives and religious groups.

Stem cell research has the potential to benefit those with various diseases. The potential shows through an experiment done on mice with Duchenne’s muscular dystrophy, a disease that causes “progressive muscle degeneration and weakness” (“Human ‘Chimeric’ Cells”). Scientists found that when combining a muscle cell with the disorder and a healthy mouse cell, muscular function greatly improved (“Human ‘Chimeric’ Cells”). This method, called “chimeric cells”, do not require the use of embryonic stem cells and should appeal to those against it. Due to the improvement of muscle function, it shows the potential of extending the life span of those with Duchenne’s muscular dystrophy. Males have more potential to suffer with Duchenne’s muscular dystrophy, due to the disorder appearing on the X chromosome (“Human ‘Chimeric’ Cells”). As they only have one X chromosome, they have a greater chance of having the disorder. Since Duchenne’s muscular dystrophy has no cure, they usually live to their 20s, with some living to their 30s. Not only would the stem cell research contribute to the longevity of their life, it would also improve the quality of their life. With more muscle function, they would have the ability to do more actions that they could not do before.

If stem cell research discovers a method for organ and tissue regeneration, it has great medical potential. Organ donation is currently the only way to replace an organ, with the organs needing specific characteristics in order to avoid rejection (“What are Stem Cells?”). Essentially growing another organ would remove the need of organ donations. These new organs would be a perfect match for the recipient because it would come from their own cells. Not only does this decrease the risk of the organ from rejection since the cells come from themselves, but it would lessen the demand organs already have (“What are Stem Cells?”). Burn victims have already benefitted from this type of regeneration from their stem cells. Their cells are harvested from beneath their skin and used for their skin grafts (“What are Stem Cells?”). Stem cell research would help to develop medicine by providing a way towards discovering methods for organ and tissue regeneration.

As a science, stem cell research will always develop and change with new research and discoveries. During it’s initial discovery, only embryonic stem cells were used. Now, iPCs and chimeric cells are being considered and used in research. This shows how progressiveness has the possibility of changing the controversy surrounding stem cells. Overall, stem cell research has potential benefits to medical development and various diseases. Although it’s controversial due to ethical and moral concerns, stem cell research’s benefits have already proven the potential of improving the quality of human life, and the improvement of life should always have consideration.

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